Jackdaw Summer by David Almond

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Hodder, 2008.
(Ages 13+) Recommended. A thought provoking novel which successfully depicts the no man's land between childhood and adult life. Liam is around fourteen, enjoying a summer of freedom camping out and running wild in the rugged Northumberland countryside. His long standing friendship with Max is increasingly strained as Max begins to enjoy the company of girls and to think seriously about his future. Liam prefers to hunt for snakes and play violent war-games with the other local lads.
During one of these endless days of summer Liam discovers an abandoned baby in the grounds of deserted Rook Hall. His life is about to change forever as, thanks to baby Alison, he meets members of her new foster family.
Crystal and Oliver are damaged teenagers living in foster care. Crystal's entire family were killed in a house fire, while Oliver, a refugee from Liberia, witnessed unspeakable horrors when forced to work as a child soldier. Liam is drawn into their tragic stories and so begins a series of events that will make this an unforgettable summer.
Jackdaw Summer explores the nature of human behaviour and the impetus that can drive anyone to commit acts of horrendous evil or immense kindness. Almond never wastes a word and can drive the plot forward with the simplest of sentences. During this hot dry summer you can almost feel the parched earth sprinkling through your fingers as Almond spins his web of magic.
This is a novel to savour with a firm sense of place, an unusual plot, interesting characters and thoughtful answers to some very difficult questions.
Claire Larson